Australian National Committee for UN Women Head calls for a National Women’s Workforce Participation Strategy

Last year, under Australia’s leadership, G20 leaders committed to closing the workforce participation gap between men and women by 25% by 2025. This landmark commitment recognised the opportunity that women’s workforce participation presents around the world and the damage that continued underutilisation was having on global growth and the perpetuation of gender inequality.

This International Women’s Day (March 8th), the Australian National Committee for UN Women is calling for a National Women’s Workforce Participation Strategy and Implementation Plan to ensure that commitments made on women’s workforce participation are mapped, met and measured.

Around the world, women and girls continue to be vulnerable, experiencing poverty at higher rates than men and boys. The International Labour Organisation estimates that the Asia and Pacific region is losing between $42 and $47 billion annually because of women’s limited access to employment opportunities. In Australia, women continue to earn less than men and are over-represented in low-paying sectors such as childcare and retail.

Executive Director, Julie McKay stated “Over the last 20 years, many policies have been explored – subsidised childcare, a variety of parental payments and most recently paid parental leave have been considered in attempts to support women’s workforce participation. Perhaps it is time to recognise that no individual policy response will solve this problem. Instead, a strategy which seeks to outline the key barriers to women’s full participation and offers actions to overcome these, is necessary”

“To enable women’s workforce participation, fundamental shifts in the perception of ‘women’s roles’ and changes to the structure of work will be required” stated Ms McKay.
“We know that while not the only factor, maternity is a major barrier to women’s participation in the workforce. To attract and retain the best talent, employers will increasingly need to support flexible work, which enables people to balance paid and unpaid work commitments”.

The reality of public policy decisions in Australia over the last 20 years, is that progress towards women’s full participation at work has been too slow. A targeted National Strategy which considers the complexity of gender equality, the barriers to women’s participation at work and of the structural and attitudinal changes needed to enable this is urgently needed.
Australia has already shown great leadership on this issue, encouraging G20 leaders to make specific commitments to closing the workforce participation gap by 2025. The next step is to develop a targeted strategy which enables Australia to meet its commitment by moving just over 250,000 more women into the workforce by 2025 and realising the full economic opportunity of doing so.